It’s incredibly gratifying to achieve a goal you’ve set for yourself, but the real challenge often begins after you hit your target, when you have to maintain the practices you have begun in order to see prolonged success. According to a new Stanford study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, individuals are more likely to continue their positive habits after the fact if they see their goal achievement as “completing a journey” instead of “arriving at a destination.”
The researchers looked at people who managed to reach their individual goals and continued succeeding afterward, and asked which mindset allowed for their continued wins. “This question is critical, because it helps us to redefine success,” study co-author and General Atlantic Professor at Stanford Graduate School of Business, Jennifer Aaker, Ph.D, explained in a statement. “It moves us from focusing on the short-run win associated with attaining a goal, to the longer-term benefits associated with continued improvement after the goal.”
Changing the way we see goal attainment doesn’t typically happen overnight — and when you see the destination as something that’s now behind you, it can be especially difficult to keep up the positive changes you implemented to get there. If you need some guidance with shifting toward a “journey mindset,” here are a few tips that can help.
Embrace the “one degree” approach
When you incorporate an influx of new, significant changes into our day to day, it’s easy to let them fall to the wayside once you hit a deadline — and that’s where the “one degree approach” can help us. “If we want to set ourselves up for long-term success, we have to focus on small habits,” Elia Gourgouris, Ph.D., an executive coach and author of 7 Paths to Lasting Happiness, tells Thrive. “Think of building blocks that move us one degree closer to our goals each day.” Here at Thrive, we call these habits “Microsteps,” and they’re all about tiny adjustments that can facilitate significant behavior change. “If you only change one degree today, you may not think you’re any different than you were yesterday,” Gourgouris adds. “But when you consistently work at it over time, you’ll notice a lasting change.”
Veer away from temporary changes
Creating short-term goals can often be efficient, like setting a firm deadline for a project you need to push across the finish line, or getting through your inbox before leaving for vacation. However, it’s easy to lose sight of the broader vision — or journey — when your action plan feels temporary. In order to keep the long-term journey in mind, Gourgouris suggests steering clear of taking on any changes that you can’t see yourself maintaining down the line. “Consistency is key,” he explains. “When your positive, happy, productive habits feel like second nature… That’s how they become lasting.”
Pinpoint a part of the process you enjoy
One reason why it’s so easy to give up on your habits after you reach your goal is because we’re driven by the goal itself. But when you enjoy the process, it’s much easier to be motivated by the journey, instead of the destination. “It’s helpful to think of goal-setting like a road trip,” Gourgouris explains. “When you’re so fixed on your destination, you forget to look outside the window and admire the view.” Instead of counting down until a set deadline when you can tick a box and move on, try finding a part of the process that makes you feel happy or fulfilled, and block off time to focus on it. When you feel motivated the entire way through, the whole process feels more meaningful, Gourgouris adds. “There are no shortcuts.”
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